Republican cuts give Clinton a trump card

After sweeping almost all before it since last November's mid-term triumph, the Republican juggernaut is at risk of being stalled by a widening dispute over party plans to cut Medicare - essential if it is to keep its central electoral promise of reducing taxes and yet balancing the federal budget by 2002.

Thus far life in command of Capitol Hill has been relatively simple for the Republicans. The Speaker Newt Gingrich's House of Representatives kept its word by voting on the 10 articles of the Contract with America, including a $189bn (£117.4bn) five-year tax cuts package, and President Bill Clinton last month was reduced to pleading on television for his political ''relevance''.

But after six all-conquering months, times are changing. Abruptly, conservatives have been put on the defensive by the Oklahoma bombing, which has helped to nudge Mr Clinton's approval rating to nearly 60 per cent, close to the highest of his presidency. Further trouble is promised by Dr Henry Foster, the President's nominee for Surgeon-General, whose success at this week's confirmation hearings threatens to bring about an embarrassing rerun on the Senate floor of the great Republican schism on abortion.

But no problem looms larger than fulfilling the balanced budget promise. And no aspect of it will be politically more difficult, yet more necessary in financial terms, than dealing with Medicare, the federal health plan for elderly and disabled Americans which - unless taxes are raised or its benefits trimmed - is forecast to go bankrupt by that same year of 2002.

Next week, the first blueprint for a balanced budget will be put forward by the Senate Budget Committee chairman, Pete Domenici of New Mexico, seeking more than $1,000bn of cuts over seven years, with $250bn - the largest single share - coming from Medicare. But a furious reaction from senior citizens' organisations, a lobby eclipsing even Jewish interest groups or the National Rifle Association in terms of political clout, has sent the Republicans running for cover and handed Mr Clinton what Democratic strategists believe could be a trump card as he starts his campaign for re-election in 1996.

Neatly out-manoeuvring his foes, the President deflected an appeal from Mr Gingrich and the Senate majority leader, Bob Dole, for bipartisan talks on the Medicare issue, telling a White House conference on the problems of elderly people that he would not discuss Medicare reform until Republicans had agreed a balanced budget plan.

That task will be anything but easy: Mr Domenici, a fervent believer in spending reductions first, tax cuts later, is at odds with the presidential contender Senator Phil Gramm of Texas, who insists on an immediate start on the $189bn House proposal, and to a lesser extent with Mr Dole.

Worse still, Mr Clinton has been able to portray Republicans as the heartless party of the rich, using money saved by reducing benefits for the elderly to finance capital gains tax cuts and other largesse for the well off. The charge is naturally rejected by Messrs Dole and Gingrich, who accuse the President of playing cheap politics with the healthcare concerns of much of the population.

But thus far a buoyant and resurgent Mr Clinton clearly has the initiative - so much so that his two rivals were reduced to walking angrily out of a press conference this week, complaining that every question was about Republican plans for Medicare. To charges of political opportunism, the White House has a ready answer. Mr Clinton, it says, did indeed try to come to grips with Medicare problems, targeting it for $120bn of savings in his 1994 health reform plan - torn to shreds by the Republicans.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Agency Administrator

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Network Support Engineer

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Network Support Engineer is r...

Recruitment Genius: Account Director - Tech Startup - Direct Your Own Career Path

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Telephone Sales Advisor - OTE £35,000

£18000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Telephone Sales Advisor is re...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent